With COVID-19 I believe we are now facing a potential pestilence of Old Testament proportions. It seems to me extremely important for fathers, pastors, elders, and deacons to lead their people Biblically in the months ahead. Therefore I plan to get more information out on how I think we should proceed. I will be sending my articles out more frequently than once per week. I, of course, am only one of many pastors, theologians, and social commentators who are speaking to these issues. Those of us in the Reformed world, by the grace of God, generally have a good grasp on the doctrine of God. You are going to need it. Now is your time to apply practically what you know. People will be looking to you for answers. Remember this, there is always hope in Jesus. Also, there is no hope without Jesus. COVID-19 may very well be the catalyst God uses to convert millions of people to Christ and absolutely transform our nation. With millions of conversions the corruption in government and business, racism, abortion, homosexuality, and all the sins which have brought us to this place will be significantly mitigated. So what follows is something I wrote last week, meant to go out on March 26. I am sending it out now because what follows in this post is where, I believe, we must begin.
Is COVID-19 a Judgment from God?
FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 13, March 21, 2020
“The Lord will make the pestilence cling to you until He has consumed you from the land. . .” -Deuteronomy 28:21
The coronavirus, now being called COVID-19, has moved from being an epidemic (two Greek words epi, meaning upon and demos, meaning people, literally upon the people) to a pandemic (pan is the Greek word meaning all, all the people). Rarely has one event captured the attention of the entire world, but this one certainly has. So, is COVID-19 a judgment from Almighty God?
Of course to answer that question we must look to the Scriptures. As Israel was soon to enter the Promised Land, after their wanderings in the wilderness for forty years due to their disobedience and unbelief, Moses gathers God’s covenant people together and gives them a wonderful promise in Deuteronomy 28:1-14. He declares that if they are diligent to obey the commandments of God then He will bestow blessing after blessing on them. They will be blessed in the city and they will be blessed in the country. They will supremely prosper. John Currid points out that the Hebrew structure of these blessings and curses follow the Near-Eastern Suzerainty/Vassal treaty formula. That is, it was common in that day for the conquering king (the Suzerain) to enter a treaty with those whom he is subjugating to himself (the Vassals). The Suzerain begins by proclaiming who he is and what he has done, and from there promises certain blessings if the Vassals submit to him. He then promises certain curses or judgments if they refuse to submit to him.
Moses then gives Yahweh’s people a severe word of warning, listing one sordid detail after another, verses 15-68, of what they can expect if they fail to obey all the commandments and ordinances which He gives them. They will be cursed in the city and they will be cursed in the country. In verse 20 he says that Yahweh will send upon them curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all they undertake to do, until they are destroyed and until they perish quickly because of their evil deeds, because they had forsaken Him. Then Moses says that Yahweh will make the pestilence cling to them until they are consumed from the land. Our word “pestilence” comes from the Latin word pestilentia or pestis which means plague. The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 28:21 is deber which means pestilence, plague, or murrain. I counted forty-seven uses of deber in the Old Testament. Seventeen of them are found in Jeremiah’s prophecy and ten are found in the prophecy of Ezekiel. As only one example, Jeremiah is preaching to King Zedekiah, saying that the Chaldeans who have besieged the city of Jerusalem, will be gathered by Yahweh, and that He Himself, not merely the Chaldeans, will war against them with an outstretched hand and will strike them down and they will die of a great pestilence.
Without question pestilence in the Bible (the death of many people at one time through disease) is portrayed as a judgment of God on rebellious, idolatrous, recalcitrant, and unrepentant people. Does this necessarily mean, however, that COVID-19 is a judgment sent from God? We can certainly say that disease and death are a result of the fall into sin (Gen, 3:17-19, Rom. 5:12-14). We can also say that due to idolatry, clearly stated in Romans 1:19-32, the wrath of God is constantly being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v.18). In other words, every death, every disease, every catastrophe is a judgment of God on the general unbelief and ungodliness of every nation in the world. This is not to say, however, that when something “bad” happens to someone that he is necessarily guilty of some sin and that God is bringing retribution upon that specific individual. In Luke 13 a few people were relating to Jesus the story of some unfortunate Galileans who were apparently killed by Pilate who, in turn, had their blood mingled in his sacrifices to his false gods. Jesus raises the question if they think these Galileans were more wicked that other Galileans who did not suffer that way. He says, “No.” But then Jesus brings it practically home to those questioning Him and this is instructive for us as well, “. . . unless you repent you will likewise perish.” In other words, every time we see a tragedy, which ultimately God ordains (Is.45:6,7, Amos 3:6), we should realize that it is a “wakeup call” to everyone who sees it or reads about it.
COVID-19 is no different but I suggest a more specific application. COVID-19 is a pestilence and according to the teaching of the Old Testament it clearly is a judgment from God upon a wicked people. In this case, the whole world qualifies as wicked.
What is the remedy for COVID-19? By this question I do not mean medical, economic, or political remedies. I have in mind the Biblical remedy of repentance. Plagues come because of idolatry and a refusal to live by God’s word. As Daniel says, “We have sinned, we have been wicked,” (Dan.9:15). He beseeches God, “. . . let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem. . . let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. . . O Lord hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord listen and take action! For Your own sake O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name,” (Dan.9:17-19).
The remedy, my friends, against the ravages of COVID-19 is for believers all over the world to confess our sins of idolatry, accommodation to the world, worldliness, unbelief, greed, sexual immorality, or whatever sin the Holy Spirit makes known to us. Our prayer should not merely be for deliverance from illness, hardship, a return of a “bull market”, or a return to normalcy. Rather we must confess our sins individually and collectively, pouring out our hearts to the only One who can save, forgive, and restore us. To use the words of Jeremiah, “Therefore, thus the Lord, ‘If you return, then I will return to you—Before Me you will stand, and if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman,’” (Jere.15:19). ____________________
1 According the World Health Organization COVID-19 is short for Corona Virus Disease 2019. The corona virus gets its name from the way it looks under a microscope, like a crown. The number 19 is used to designate the year in which is was discovered.
2 A Study Commentary on Deuteronomy, John Currid, Evangelical Press, page 421
3 Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, page 29, appendix
4 Here is a cursory look at how deber is used in the Old Testament—Ex.5:3, Lev.26:25, Numb.14:12, 16:46-49, 25:9, 2 Sam.24:15, Jere. 15:2, 16:4, 21:6, 24:10, Each usage is a judgment from God upon His unrepentant people.